The Sickle Cell Diaries: Colds and Infections

As I write this I’ve been suffering with a flu for the past few days. A flu is a nasty thing for anybody, and there are different levels of severity. For Sickle Cell sufferers a cold, flu or any type of infection can trigger the sickling of the red blood cells, resulting in something I call a system shutdown. Currently I am experiencing pains in my shoulder, hip and wrists. The pains mixed with the pounding headache, difficulty of breathing and the weak body feeling is pretty unpleasant.

Again, a flu or infection is nasty for anybody, and as a Sickle Cell sufferer it is important to take extra precautions as not to make it escalate into a full blown crisis. I’ve had colds in the past that have lead to me being hospitalised, so I advise all my fellow suffers to follow these tips when suffering from an infection.

Drink More than Usual

I can’t emphasis enough how important it is for Sickle Cell sufferers to drink lots of water, whether they’re in pain or not. When suffering from an infection it becomes even more important, as your body will dehydrate quicker. It will also help flush your system and get rid of the infection (depending on the nature of the infection). When I have the flu I always suffer from a sore throat and it makes it painful to swallow. This can put me off drinking and eating completely. If this is the case it’s important to endure the pain and get as much fluids as you can.

Get Extra Rest

If you still plan to go about your everyday life, then I recommend going to bed sooner than usual. It’s important that your body gets the rest it needs to fight the infection and lessen the risk of a full on Sickle Cell crisis. Being tired is always a risk for Sickle Cell sufferers, and having an infection only magnifies this risk.


Medications to Take For Sickle Cell

It’s always a good idea to discuss your medications with your GP. But from experience, an antibiotic such as penicillin (Phenoxymethylpenicillin is what I have to be exact) is necessary for Sickle Cell sufferers when fighting infections. I was told years ago that as a Sickle Cell sufferer we don’t have a fully functional spleen, which is the organ that helps filter the blood from infections, so this means we have to rely on our medicine even more so. The quote below from John Hopkins Medicine sums this up nicely.

The spleen is an organ that helps filter the blood of infections. Sickled cells get stuck in this filter and die. Due to the decreased number of healthy red blood cells circulating in the body, a person with sickle cell disease is chronically anemic. The spleen also suffers damage from the sickled cells blocking healthy oxygen carrying cells and typically infarcts in the first few years of life. Without a normal functioning spleen, these individuals are more at risk for infections. Infants and young children are at risk for life-threatening infections.

Take Pain Killers Only When Necessary

Sickle Cell pains can be crippling. It’s hard to even explain the severity of Sickle Cell pains and I still struggle to describe them to this day. Painkillers are an important part of getting through these painful episodes. Sufferers can be prescribed anything from Diclofenac, Ibuprofen to Dihydrocodeine. While it’s important to take these when the pain is too much to cope with, it’s also important to monitor the use and only take them when absolutely necessary. I’ve found in the past that painkillers can even worsen my state, so it’s important to proceed with caution and if the pain gets too difficult to cope with then give in and and go to the hospital for help.

As usual I welcome any comments, questions of feedback on this subject matter, and I hope it helps!